Episode 6

For The Hungry Ghosts

#poetry #music

In Partnership with Kilkenny Arts Festival

In response to Episode 6 of Ulysses, Paula Meehan, one of Ireland’s most prominent living poets, has produced a brand-new collection of poetry, For the Hungry Ghosts, written through the powerful and deeply personal lens of the grief and trauma she has experienced, inherited and lived.

Bloom’s journey on the 16th of June 1904 across Dublin to a funeral in Glasnevin Cemetery is also a journey into Bloom’s interior obsessions, into the underworld of his emotional life: the suicide of his father; the death of his child; his fraught relationship with his wife Molly and her wandering eye; the anxiety attendant on his daughter’s blossoming into womanhood.

On 13 & 14 August 2022 at Kilkenny Arts Festival, in collaboration with master musician David Power, Paula Meehan premiered an intimate performance of her elegies, poems of mourning and signposts to recovery and survival, drawing on the live resonance of the uilleann pipes to channel volcanic emotion and to ritualise and assuage grief.

At the Sign of the White Horse

We called it a day; we called it a night.

There was absinthe; there was tsipouro.

There was amnesia; there was oblivion.

The waves far out were wild and white capped

But those close in lapped and lipped at the shore

Like whispers, like kisses.

A red sailed schooner made in for safe haven.

The barman’s arms were tattooed with skulls

And crosses like kisses round his neck were a rosary.

Or a garrotte. I remember thinking. If thinking it was.

I was three sheets in the wind and listing to starboard.

So I offer this witness with caveat and warning.

The children played on the sand — their squabbles microcosmic

To the storm that was brewing. Chair toppling squalls blew

My lines off my sheet, my sheets off the lines

So much to remember; so much to forget.

The sun was setting; a new moon rising.

It was sextile Neptune if it matters to you.

It matters to me, my first day sober.

I died in your arms at the sign of the white horse.

My old self tucked in a bed of soft clay

In that port of white towers, white houses, white streets.

The leaves that dropped on my grave were blessings

The white rose you laid there a token of hope

The winter would shrive me, would scour me, would save me.

When I rose from the dead I was dressed in white linen.

My angel of mercy, my angel of kindness,

Wreathed in myrtle, smelling of pine.

On your milk white steed with your milk white promises:

I was lady

of as much land

as I could ride in a long summer’s day.

I Open the World Like a Box of Colours

The tin box of childhood, of Christmas, of birthdays,

The pristine tiles in rows, the lid a palette,

The brush dipped & pointed & loaded

And the day a fresh sheet waiting

For the wash, the mark, the line;

And as I work I stand in memory,

In solidarity with my dying father

Who brought home stiff white paper

From the racetrack, from his arcane job:

A bookmaker’s clerk — what might that be?

It was all mystery to me in my girlhood, in the 1960’s.

I thought he made books, those winged angels,

My heart’s delight flapping through those lost rooms

The tenements, the rentals, the illegal lets.

I told him all this not long before he died;

How the purloined paper where he scanned

Out the names and the horses’ odds, evens, the prices,

Presaged what my life would become,

A maker of books, a maker of marks on the page,

How patterns emerge, distort, resume,

How the dúchas briseann trí súile an chait,

How all the puzzling crosswords,

All the horses’ names, the greyhounds, their lineages,

The narratives the bookies and the punters called form

Were part now of my own molecular spin,

My drift of years not random, but determined,

Willed by the these charms of fate

These whorls in the flux of our journeys.

And if he made sense of what I was saying,

Or of what I was trying to say, he never let on.

Taciturn to the end, he kept his counsel.

We were standing at his door in Mellowes Court

Waiting for the downpour to abate

Regarding an old snuffling very melancholy

Border collie with matted fur, one eye blue, one brown,

A dreadlocked spectre at the gates of time.

Both of us nearing the end of our roads, he said.

The rain stopped and the world, even in the face

Of his dying, was new-minted and fresh.

The suburban murmuration at the end of summer,

Bumblebees and strimmers, resumed.

Too many of your friends died young, he said.

The sad fucking winners, the sad fucking losers.

We shuffled up to Finglas village for a pint

And a carvery lunch in the Shamrock,

A bet in Paddy Powers, a fiver each way

On Nick-Nick, offspring of Mrs. Santa and Satan

Which he noticed, as I knew he would,

The sire and the mare had anagrammed each other,

A fact that pleased us both greatly & equally

Though the horse lost the race by five lengths

And this poem took a decade and more to make.

I open the world like a box of new colours

Each morning pristine, full of promise

And there’s my father, and all my beloved dead

Holy icons in the chapel where I go

To light candles for their peace and for mine,

Before I close the lid on the world

That winks out with the wheeling stars above.

The Grief of Creatures

The old horse comes as usual to the fence

to be fed by the man who leaves the house

in the breaking light of dawn with a sack of early apples.

The mare comes after, and her foal,

like a shy girl at her flank, coming down

the mountainy field through the summer mist.

The rain drenched stallion in the lower field

pricks up his ears, his companion donkey

patient at the gate. And, oh, they’ll be waiting

for the man as he whistles the two dogs to heel

and turns to the wide-open sea where his name

is writ on water. They’ll be waiting

the long hours for the man to finish the line

and set down his poem and pick up the bucket

of sweet early apples and climb up the hill to the gate.

They’ll be waiting and wondering. Has he fallen

asleep in his bed of nettles, or is he lost

in a mineshaft’s coppery dark? They’ve not

seen him take the boat out the harbour mouth.

They’ve not seen him step the mast.

But they’ve smelled a wind off the Atlantic,

the last wind to fill his sails.

The old horse comes as usual to the fence

to be fed, and the mare and her shy foal.

They are waiting for John O’Leary.

He could nearly stretch his hand across the void

to touch the grieving horses,

to stroke their velvet muzzles,

his hands smelling of apples, of salt.

Watch & Listen



Key Dates

In Performance with David Power
13 & 14 August 2022

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